ShadowParty - ShadowParty

by Howard Scott Rating:8 Release Date:2018-07-27
ShadowParty - ShadowParty
ShadowParty - ShadowParty

Here is a musical recipe for you: Take two latter-day members of New Order, then add two fairly low seniority players from Devo. Mix with an impressive guest list including a world-class vocalist, and a string quartet led by three different arrangers. Just for good measure, throw in a premier guitar player and an LA-based DJ  (Whitney Fierce) doing backing vocals.

What that all adds up to is a new and tasty first offering from ShadowParty. Their self-titled album is due out July 27 on Mute Records and contains ten tracks of polished and uplifting synth pop.

ShadowParty started life when Josh Hager, a keyboard and guitar representative from Devo, got together with Tom Chapman.  Both were residing in Boston and looking for a new and challenging project. Chapman has handled bass guitar duties for New Order since 2011, but like Hager, also knows his way around a programming board and a lead vocal mic. Phil Cunningham, another New Order alum, was persuaded to become ShadowParty’s guitarist and he was soon joined by Devo Drummer Jeff Friedl to form the basic quartet of the group.

While the style of ShadowParty music is almost unanimously joyous and happy sounding, the lyrics are often not. The combination makes for an intriguing amalgam.

The opening cut,”Celebrate”, does a good job of creating a welcoming introduction to the band’s sound. The electronic drums snap, crackle and pop like Rice Krispies on speed, while the atmospheric-ripping synths combine with strings arranged by Joe Duddell, who also has New Order cred on his resume. The inspiriting lyrics on this one are combined with the cheerful melody to create a highly positive feeling to hook the listener. Believe me, this entire album has more hooks than your favorite coat room.

Before you get too giddy, the second offering, “Taking Over”, takes you to a darker mood with shadowy vocals and a slower beat. It definitely resets the opening mood.

Duddell’s string arrangements reappear on “Marigold”, a lush composition which has a slightly updated and electrified classic Pink Floyd sound and feel.  Influence by the best is never a weakness!

Two five minute middle tracks on the album combine for the band’s best work. The first, “Sooner or Later” starts as a rather quiet, unremarkable tune, but then builds into a magnum opus with all hands on deck. The mournful chorus lyrics, “Sooner or later you ask yourself, could you walk away and be someone else”, combines with a musical tempo flip to give the song a stronger, sharp and crafted vibe. The New Order DNA of the band shows itself here. Again, not bad DNA to be born with.

Following is “Present Tense”, which features a killer lead vocal by Denise Johnson. Johnson’s career discography would take reams of paper to duplicate, and her background vocals on several other album tracks do nothing but add substance and depth to the sound. “Tense” waffles a bit from the synth-pop sound and almost crosses the border into full disco. The song is easily the most danceable tune on the recording and defies the listener to stay perfectly still while listening. The lyrics aren’t particularly merry here, but a second verse “he said-she said” back and forth between vocalists  Johnson and Chapman is a nicely done bit that makes the work stand out. Visions of spinning mirror balls will dance in your head.

Those visions will dry up pretty quickly when “Even So” follows. This tune is a complete outlier on the recording. The song is dark, with ethereal music deeply burying echo-laden vocals. Duddell and Joan Wasser combined on the arrangement of the background strings and Nick McCabe, The Verve ’s world-class guitarist makes a stunning contribution. A heartbeat-like percussion pattern pounds the tune into your brain and brings to mind late 60’s Moody Blues.

The debut album winds up with “The Valley”. The drumbeat doesn’t start until about 40 seconds in, but once it does, it dominates. Less than hopeful lyrics are enhanced by the overwhelming chords to create an urgency not really present elsewhere on the disc. Ascending scales build to the conclusion of the work and the record.

“ShadowParty” was recorded in Manchester, as well as Boston and Los Angeles.  Guitarist Cunningham is on record as saying the band felt like they had been on a world tour before ever playing a show!

It is obvious when listening to this release that it wasn’t put together by rookies. Everyone involved has been in the music business for awhile, and the professionalism shows through. Having that experience also comes with the added perk of having a list of fellow friends and performers who can come in and polish the finished project just a bit more. ShadowParty is a splendid mix of tunes just different enough to catch your attention. What it is is just plain fun listening.

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